Maria Birnbaum

Image of Maria Birnbaum
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Phone +47-22855582
Visiting address Niels Henrik Abels vei 36 P. A. Munchs hus 0371 OSLO
Postal address Postboks 1010 Blindern 0315 OSLO


Academic interests

International Relations Theory, Political Philosophy, Social Theory, Colonial History, The History of Political Thought, International Politics of Religion and Culture.


Current Projects

Politics of the Unknown

Establishing Diversity: Recognizing religious difference in Pakistan and Israel



Birnbaum received her PhD from the European University Institute (EUI) with the thesis: "Becoming recognizable. Postcolonial independence and the reification of religion."


Selected Publications

  • Recognizing Diversity: Establishing Religious Difference in Pakistan and Israel, in: Reus-Smit, Christian and Andrew Phillips (eds.): Culture and Order in World Politics, Cambridge University Press (in print)

  • Arbiters of Orthodoxy: Contentious Politics and Epistemological Change, in: Politics, Religion & Ideology, 18:1, 109-112, 2017
  • Emerging International Subjects: The Royal ‘Peel’ Commission, Palestine Partition and the Establishment of Religious Difference at the United Nations, in: Stensvold (ed.): Religion, State and the United Nations, London: Routledge 2017
  • Religion: Westphalia, the Colony and the Secular, in: Berenskoetter (ed.): Concepts in World Politics, London: Sage, 2016
  • Exclusive Pluralism, in: Stack et. al (eds.): Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty, Leiden: Brill, 2015

Positions held

  • 2011-2015 Research assistant for the ERC-funded project ReligioWest, European University Institute (EUI), Florence
  • 2012          Visiting scholar, Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston
  • 2009-2010 Lecturer at the dept. of Philosophy, Ludwig-Maximilian Universität, Munich
  • 2007-2009 Editorial assistant for the peer-reviewed journal German journal for International Relations (Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen)
  • 2007-2009 Research Assistant at the dept. of International Relations, Ludwig-Maximilian Universität, Munich


Her doctoral thesis Becoming recognizable. Postcolonial independence and the reification of religion argues that international scholarship has failed to take into account the manner in which the process of recognition presupposes and reproduces already recognizable objects and agents. The example used in the thesis is that extant studies on the recognition of religion in international affairs assume that religion is always already present and intelligible as a category of political thought and action. It continues to demonstrate how this tendency is inherent in the theory and practices of recognition more broadly. In forgoing study of the processes through which these agents and objects were differentiated and individuated in the first place, recognition cannot but contribute to their reification. Moving beyond this impasse in IR Theory, the thesis argues, requires a more finely attuned genealogical sensitivity when it comes to the question how entities of international politics become recognizable. This suggests that scholars dwell on the processes through which they are constituted and made intelligible, i.e. recognizable. 

This insight is illustrated with reference to how “religion” became internationally recognizable as a differentiable and politically relevant category in and through two distinct yet related historical processes: the partition of South Asia with the establishment of Pakistan and the foundation of the state of Israel in the wake of the demise of the British Empire. Both states were claimed, enacted and subsequently recognized along the lines of religious difference; Muslim/non-Muslim in the case of Pakistan and Jew/non-Jew in the case of Israel. By studying macro and micro processes through which religion became a differentiated, taken-for-granted juridical, cultural and political category the thesis shows the processes through which religion became recognizable and how this particular recognizable version of religion was reified through the international recognition thereof, that is, the recognition of these two states as a Muslim Homeland and a Jewish National Home.

The thesis thus argues against the assumption that religion, in and of itself is a root cause in the establishment of these two states, a source of violence in the ongoing conflicts with their neighbors, or an instrument of peace. Rather it argues that religion was made recognizable and reified in a particular shape and meaning through the processes of the international recognition of the two post-colonial states. Rather than looking to recognize the importance of religion in international affairs, the thesis investigates the multiple manners in which religion emerged as a politically salient point of reference according to which a changing international order took shape and along the lines of which new international agency was and is claimed and recognized.


Tags: International Relations, Social Theory, Political Philosophy, Politics of Religion and Culture, Colonial History


Published Oct. 7, 2015 10:45 AM - Last modified Apr. 28, 2019 11:41 PM